My friend Paul Fitzgerald of Grace Connexion Ministries showed me a poster that he uses in one of his lectures. It was a tombstone with a place for a name. Underneath that was the simple epitaph “I survived.” When I first saw it I laughed, but then it has haunted me ever since. I will be posting some thoughts soon on the origin of our “I am nots.” I am not loveable. I am not good enough. I am not worthy, not special, not wanted. We all have them, and they debilitate us, poisoning our freedom to live life. We go into survival mode. One of my most damaging is “I am not there yet.” It is a simple statement, but it drives me, and I suspect it drives nations, corporations and denominations as well. The particular problem that “I am not there yet” creates is the inability to enjoy the moment, and that means people and Papa’s creation. That is a consequence of the enormous drive to contribute, to do more, to create. Folks who are afflicted with this particular problem get an awful lot done. They are typically over-achievers. And we typically miss out on our daughter’s smile, the simple joy of being in the room with friends, or the exquisite colors of a bird. Even when we take a break, we can’t take a break.
Last week I got a call from a older man who had been ‘asked to leave’ the church where he served as a pastor. He was devastated. He had no idea what he would do. ‘Ministry’ was his life. After I listened for a while to his hurt and to his fear, I told him, “Jesus loves you an awful lot.” He asked, “what do you mean?” “He loves you so much as to deliver you from the machine, so that you can be free to live. If you are a pastor, no one can keep you from caring about people. You don’t need to be in a institution to do that. All you need is people. So now you are free to get to know people. And you can do that anywhere, beginning with your own family.”
“I am not there yet” usually means that we buy into someone’s definition of where ‘there’ is, and some notion of how to get there, and we lose ourselves in the diligent process of being faithful. So much so that we don’t even know who we really are. Our very identity, our sense of who we are becomes confused with our role in ‘getting there.’ My pastor friend got delivered from being in ‘ministry.’ Or perhaps I should say he got delivered from someone’s or some group’s definition of ‘ministry.’ It was a surgical cut that hurts like hell, but it was designed with love for liberation.
Where is ‘there”? All our “I am nots” have their origin in the whisper of the father of lies. They certainly are confirmed by life experiences, by childhood wounds, by financial loss, betrayal, tragedy, and disappointments. There is evidence for the whisper, or so it would seem. But given the evidence, what will it take to get there? What will it take to feel worthy? What will it take to feel important, or wanted, or special or loved? These are the better questions. Who told us what ‘special’ is and why did we believe them? Who defined ‘there’ for me, and why does their opinion matter so much? What is the origin of ‘important’ or ‘worthy’? What constitutes being ‘wanted’ or ‘loved?’ Who or what has defined these quite fundamental ideas for us?
Toward the end of The Shack there is conversation between Mack and Jesus that is very relevant here.
‘Jesus?’ he whispered, as his voice choked. ‘I feel so lost.’
A hand reached out and squeezed his, and didn’t let go. ‘I know, Mack. But it’s not true. I am with you and I’m not lost. I’m sorry it feels that way, but hear me clearly. You are not lost.’” 114
I think Jesus’ own “I Am” is the answer to all of our “I am nots.”
I Am there, and you are in me. So you are there too.
I Am worthy, and you are in me. So you are worthy too.
I Am loved, and you are in me. So you are loved too.
I Am important, and you are in me. So you are important too.
I Am wanted, and you are in me. So you are wanted too.
Blessed are the ones who have the freedom to be, for they shall see glory everywhere.
I just noticed a male cardinal sitting on a limb in my backyard. Blood red feathers against the backdrop of the brown hues of leafless trees. I wonder what that means?